The normal response of any mammal’s body to significant damage is to create scar tissue, a hasty but crude way of replacing what has been lost. Scar tissue has a clear evolutionary advantage: The body is quickly sealed off from bacterial infection, and the injured mammal has a better chance of surviving. In most cases, scarring does not restore the body to its original state. However, healing through regenerative medicine does.
The regenerative medicine healing efforts of
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
deputy director Stephen Badylak, DVM, PhD, MD (pictured), director of the Center for Pre-Clinical Tissue Engineering within the Institute, and professor in the Department of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh, have been highlighted in numerous venues most recently by Adam Piore in Discover magazine. Mr. Piore focuses on Dr. Badylak’s extracellular matrix discovery in 1989 to his present day research and clinical trials.
In early research, extracellular matrix—ECM for short—was known only to be the glue that holds tissue together, a cellular-level skeleton upon which nerve, bone, and muscle can plant themselves and get to work. As Mr. Piore reports, once thought to be a simple cellular shock absorber, ECM is now understood to contain powerful proteins that can reawaken the body’s latent ability to regenerate tissue.
“Almost everybody considered the extracellular matrix just the structural support that allowed you to stand up and support weight and hold things together,” Dr. Badylak said. “But now we know it’s almost just the opposite. It’s primarily a collection of signaling proteins and information that is held within the structural molecules.”
Newsstand headlines of examples of the use of ECM for the repair of injured body parts have propelled the science of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering into the public’s eye. Beginning with Lee Spievack’s fingertip regeneration in 2007 to the more recent news of Corporal Isaias Hernandez’s quadriceps muscle regeneration, ECM and Dr. Badylak’s discoveries with it provide scientific evidence of what was once disregarded as unconfirmed reports. Surgeons use ECM to repair rotator cuffs, abdominal hernias, and esophageal reflux damage, and even to induce the regrowth of the outer lining of the brain.
In his preclinical studies, Dr. Badylak has successfully used ECM to regenerate aorta and tendon tissues. Dr. Badylak and J. Peter Rubin, MD, chief of the division of plastic and reconstructive surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), director of the UPMC Life After Weight Loss Program, co-director of the Adipose Stem Cell Center, co-director of the UPMC Aesthetic Plastic Surgery Center, and associate professor of plastic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, currently lead an 80-patient study of ECM to regenerate patient muscle at 5 institutions. Last February, Dr. Badylak and collaborators announced that they had regenerated one of the body’s most scar-prone tissues, the inner lining of the esophagus.
Ultimately, Dr. Badylak believes that ECM will lead to therapies that regrow amputated human arms and legs, much like salamanders and starfish regenerate limbs, although he realizes that this may not happen in his lifetime. Regrowing an entire finger is a far greater challenge than regrowing a single tissue like muscle. Dr. Badylak’s strategy at the moment is to construct a dome that would cover the end of an amputated body part and re-create the conditions that exist in a human embryo, which possesses the ability to grow any tissue type. “We know that in a test tube we can get ECM to form muscle, tissue, fat, and bone. If we can create optimal conditions, we can truly program the formation of the functional tissue,” Dr. Badylak explained to Mr. Piore.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Stephen Badylak Laboratory News: Discover Magazine Highlights the Research Efforts of Dr. Stephen Badylak
Mail Online (06/20/11)
The Australian (06/20/11)
Daily India (06/20/11)
Huffington Post (video) (06/20/11)
Inductive Scaffold for Digit Extension
ECM-Replacement of Lost Muscle Tissue
Badylak Lab Featured in Esquire Magazine
Oprah Show Features Regenerative Medicine Work
Esophageal Tissue Engineering
Bio: Dr. Stephen Badylak
Bio: Dr. J. Peter Rubin